Q: Where are the facility rebuilds at here in mid-summer?
A: We are on schedule. We are finally at a point where you are beginning to see the footprints of those facilities take shape, primarily at baseball. We had steel that went up for the first time on June 10. You can see the backstop where concrete was poured so it gives you a perspective on where the actual stands will be as compared to the field. At softball you are beginning to see the field footprint beginning to take shape as well, concrete and steel going up on schedule.
Q: What will the softball and soccer facilities mean to the women’s programs?
A: In terms of a concentrated female-only facility, it is the largest project in the history of this University. We have used the term ‘game-changer’ a lot; this is a ‘program-changer.’ They are going from what were some of the bottom-tier facilities in our league to what will be unquestionably the best facilities in our league. What is interesting is that baseball had a good facility, and we are making it great. But in the case of softball and soccer, when you had a bad facility and we are making it great, it is that much more impactful. You see the contrast. Baseball is going to be fantastic in its own right, but the stark contrast in what we had and what we are getting in softball and soccer is remarkable.
Q: Do you feel confident that the facilities will be ready for the spring seasons?
A: The anticipated timeline on all three facilities is January 2021. We have had good weather so far. They are making great progress. We feel softball and baseball will be in their facilities prior to the start of play in their spring seasons. There will still be some level of inconvenience for the fall for soccer’s competitive season and baseball and softball’s fall seasons as far as games and practices. By the time the Conference USA championships roll around in May 2021, we will have had the opportunity to play a full season in the baseball stadium and really work out any kinks that there may be early. We will be able to showcase our campus and our community during the C-USA Baseball Championships next spring.
Q: What has been the biggest difference in this process and the previous process of building the south end zone facility and the new press box and suites at Joe Aillet Stadium?
A: I think the biggest difference when you compare it to the other projects is it being reactionary. The end zone was launched prior to my arrival. There was a buildup. There was a fundraising campaign. And you get to a point where you move forward. The press box was a shorter timeline but it was still the same process. All of a sudden on April 25 (of 2019) we wake up and we don’t have the facilities anymore (because of the early morning tornado on that date). Outside of some small improvements or modifications that we were planning on doing to them, we had no plans of building a brand new baseball stadium, a brand new softball stadium, and a brand new soccer stadium. But all of a sudden on April 25, we had to start making plans. That was the biggest difference with it being so reactionary. In my time as an athletic director anywhere, it is the first time that I have been part of an entire sports stadium rebuild. We are getting all three in one year. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a school, a community, and an athletics director. We are blessed to be able to do that.
Q: What is the domino effect of getting all three new stadiums at one time, as far as future facility projects?
A: It takes what would have likely been renovations and modifications and makes them brand new facilities – which will be generational facilities that we will just need to maintain – and it does allow us to shift our focus to what are those other things we can now tackle. We have things that we still need, whether it’s an academic center, practice facilities, or renovations at the Thomas Assembly Center. I don’t know where all those things are on the timeline, but we are able to shift those things further up on our priority list as opposed to having to address baseball, softball, and soccer.
Q: How does the facility rebuild affect parking for both the campus and athletics?
A: The University has recently issued some bonds and will add parking and new housing units to the campus as part of a comprehensive plan that was going on prior to the tornado. The tornado allowed the campus and athletics to collaborate on a masterplan. There is a level of cooperation on campus led by Dr. (Les) Guice, Brooks Hull, Jim King, Dickie Crawford, and athletics. In the aftermath of the tornado, we were able to work together for the overall good of the University. So the decision was made to move softball and soccer and to utilize those footprints for more parking. It is much needed on campus, and it will also benefit athletics for home football and baseball games, as well as graduation. It was a unique opportunity to collaborate and make some global decisions on what strategically is the best thing for the University.